“This Tweet is from an account that no longer exists.” Twitter now shows this message when you click on a link that used to lead to something model Chrissy Teigen had posted. During a decade on the platform, Teigen had become known for self-deprecating jokes and searingly honest revelations – such as uploaded a photo of herself grieving a miscarriage just a few months ago, which inspired others to share their own experiences cathartically. Everything she published was dissected – she literally couldn’t even make a nonchalant remark about discovering jacket potatoes without news outlets spinning stories about it.
But Teigen faced the complete breadth of online harassment – from a conspiracy group attacking her family to cheap blows from anonymous accounts. In her final note on the platform, it’s clear that these all amount to the same; one of the levelling (but not equalising) characteristics of the internet is that all harassment is delivered without distinction. She wrote: “I encourage you to know and never forget that your words matter. No matter what you see, what that person portrays, or your intention. For years I have taken so many small, 2-follower count punches that at this point, I am honestly deeply bruised.”
Teigen deleted her account shortly after saying the above, but her words are retained in screenshots and media coverage. I wouldn’t be surprised if they circulate in memes too; I saw a stray Tweet from someone making a dig at her expense, claiming she had quit Twitter because of something irrelevant they had done. Teigen’s brave and vulnerable departure message did not deter the trolling.
I sometimes dream of closing my social media accounts. I think most people who use online platforms out of necessity, usually because their work requires it, do. Harassment is a part of the reason why, but so are many other things. The pressure to self-promote, the requirement that one be accessible, voyeurism, and the depletion of trying to be visible without being vulnerable or without resorting to a curated façade are some other reasons.
Those who stay find workarounds that help with the toxicity of being online. These include timed log-ins, apps only on one device, short periods of “digital detox”, as well as the liberal use of the mute, block, unfollow, restrict and unfriend features. I have some friends who don’t have their own accounts, but do check others’ public ones. This runs the gamut from occasionally looking up dear ones’ achievements to stalking love interests, so it’s a mixed bag of caring, curiosity and triggers even so. We each have a motley bag of both boundaried and unfiltered methods to navigate these spaces, through our presence as well as in our observance or our participation. The aim is to find a balance that mostly works, at least on enough days. Right now, my equation in flux. I’m interested in finding out how life can be restructured with less constant online activity, and how my engagement and connection modalities will evolve. We don’t have proof of it – we have no right to have proof of it – but my sincere speculation is that Teigen is enjoying hers much more now.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on April 1st 2021. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.